One neighbor’s efforts to clean up a local grocery’s image is a win-win for the whole community.
Facebook was in a flurry this spring with complaints about the new Chelten Market IGA that opened on Chelten Avenue last year. When Sharrieff Ali first read the posts, he was surprised the Health Department hadn’t shut the place down!
But according to public records, this store was violation-free. As an occasional shopper – and direct neighbor on Maplewood Avenue in back – Sharrieff had never witnessed anything to warrent such a bashing on social media. The negativity was overwhelming.
Comments from Living in Germantown: All Together:
“I was just in the IGA CheltenMart with the best intentions, as usual…they really need to clean up their act! The smell was so overwhelming, that I almost passed out…we really need to let them know that they just can’t come in and expect us to just take whatever they feel like giving us. I know people have spoken on this before, now we need action! “
“So many reports of spoiled food and smells. No thanks. Sad for our neighborhood.”
“Nobody cares about the food in poor and predominately minority communities. They’re probably getting what stores in wealthier neighborhoods are throwing away.“
So it was an older store, nothing fancy. And their inventory was a bit different than your average Acme or Shoprite — this Germantown location serves several immigrant communities, and carries some unusual items. But after the Pathmark here closed in 2015, Sharrieff appreciated having a supermarket nearby again. So did his tenants, and the members of the Maplewood Neighbors group he belongs to.
“Actually, I thought the IGA was a big step up from the Pathmark,” he told us. As a neighborhood advocate, Sharrieff had kept an eye on the property after Pathmark closed – as soon as it had been purchased in 2016 he reached out to the new owner, Young Kim (and his nephew/manager Jay), for the plans and timeline. Sharrieff also helped finagle an upkeep agreement for the building’s exterior.
Seemed to Sharrieff that these guys were eager to serve and support the community. “Young Kim has invested more than 1. 8 million dollars in upgrades,” Sharrieff told us, “And you see Jay and Young here working all the time.”
Obviously they came here to succeed – what good could come from slamming them online? “They need our support!” he said.
“I went there one day to buy some lunch meat and the ﬁsh was smelling terrible. I told the manager. I think as a community we should stick together and get a better market there. I travel all the way to shop rite in Cheltenham on the bus to feed my family. I am willing to help close this store down and get a clean store there for once the path mark was just as bad.”
“That’s why I don’t buy meat there. I seldom go there. Why can’t we get a better supermarket in the neighborhood?”
“I don’t have any idea why the entire intersection of Wayne and Chelten isn’t taken more seriously.”
“Maybe it’s because they think we don’t care what’s put in our neighborhood.”
“Probably because it’s ﬁlled with trash and businesses that treat people second rate.”
“Some people think if we shut these guys down, we’ll get a Whole Foods. Now why would Whole Foods think they’d work here if IGA couldn’t?” Sharrieff laughed. “No, if the IGA fails, it’ll be an empty lot again.” The Chelten Market wasn’t perfect, but it was better than another vacancy.
“Big-Box businesses have a formula when they size up a potential location, “ Sharrieff explained. They draw a circle, they count who’s living here, they look at crime stats, property values, median incomes…. A whole bunch of data points factor into the tally, and then “If the numbers say Trader Joe’s, you’ll get a Trader Joe’s. If the numbers say Bottom Dollar, then you get a Bottom Dollar.”
Chelten Ave’s numbers, evidently, said IGA.
“You get what you get,” Sharrieff shrugged. In his experience, while communities may have some influence over whether or not to grant commercial zoning in their neighborhood, once an area’s been zoned for business, developers – not residents — decide which stores and services to bring. Which kind of makes sense when you consider how much of an investment a business owner makes when opening a new location.
A businessman himself with over 20 years in real estate, Sharrieff understood the risk Jay and Young were undertaking. And as a local property owner, he knew that a quality supermarket could be a great anchor for neighborhood growth and commerce — it could bring good jobs and attract more investors. “I felt like I was in a unique position to bridge an open line of communication and hopefully find some solutions,” Sharrieff said.
He shared copies of Facebook comments with Jay and Young, and held a focus group in his home with a cross-section of community members giving direct feedback on the positives and negatives of their shopping experience. “Jay and Young were grateful for the neighbors’ input and very receptive to making improvements to address issues and better serve the community.”
Already there’s been progress, with upgrades to lighting and landscaping around the market’s exterior and parking lot, plus new efforts to improve the store’s appearance, cleanliness, and selections.
The store also now has a greatly expanded pet aisle, after neighbors expressed how much they needed a walkable option for toys, treats, collars, food, etc. “I was just as surprised as Jay and Young by all the pet owners here, “ Sharrieff said, “And it’s great, they were truly happy to provide for a need.”
MAY THEY HELP YOU? If there’s an item you’d like Chelten Market to carry, let them know at the Customer Service desk and they’ll get right on it.
WHAT’S NEXT? Plans are underway to introduce a community market in the parking lot, featuring IGA’s fresh seasonal produce as well as fun activities to encourage neighbors to check out the market. Sponsors, Vendors & Volunteers: email editor@EastFallsLocal.com for great opportunities. Also coming soon: Beer and wine aisle!
REVIEW: A Spin Down the Aisles at Chelten Market IGA
Your basic 1980’s-90’s supermarket design – clean, well-kept, nice staff. They carry a surprisingly wide selection of items in every department. Many are substantially cheaper, too, than at Acme and ShopRite.
Of the three times we’ve shopped here, one time I could smell the seafood department. It wasn’t a spoiled odor, but it was fishy. Maybe a shipment had just come in or something? (I don’t usually buy supermarket seafood so I didn’t pursue this.)
FUN FACT: It’s a mini-international market! Young and Jay’s other IGA in Norristown caters to a Latino clientele, and some of that inventory mingles on the shelves here, along with some Caribbean specialties. There’s a ton of cool Asian snacks and frozen foods, too: Young and Jay are Korean, and are happy to hook you up with some good stuff to try (just ask!).
FIVE COOL THINGS YOU CAN GET AT CHELTEN MARKET IGA
- A rainbow of Latin sodas. Try one of each and pick a favorite. Do this with someone you love, or with a room full of strangers. It’s always fun. And delicious.
- So many frozen dumplings! Won ton, gyoza, shumai. Big floppy pork and beef ones. Neat little veggie pillows. Go crazy with some hoisin sauce or Ssamjang. Make a night of it.
- Jamaican specialty items. Ackees are the fluffy yellow insides of tree pods that burst open when ripe, and make the best “scrambled eggs” you have ever tasted. Callaloo and salt codfish work in there, too. Mmmm… Like your mouth’s on vacation.
- Temptation “Hairball formula” cat treats. Because these are hard to find – I order them from Amazon to control the feline retching situation around here. It’s great to have a local source now (try them, your kitty will thank you!).
- Fabuloso Magical all-purpose cleaner that costs like nothing but Smells. So. Good. Works great, too, it’s a wonderful value but that’s not why you use Fabuloso, right? It’s because whatever scent you choose will blossom as you clean and fill your house with olfactory sunshine. It’ll freshen any funk – smoke, grease, pets, fish, laundry, you name it. And wow the fragrance lasts! People will think you just cleaned days after you really did. Not that I ever rely on that (cough cough).
Chelten Market IGA
176 West Chelten Ave (Germantown)
Open daily 8am – 9pm
Weekly specials listed online. MENTION THIS STORY for a free ride home (minimum $100 purchase).